The first-ever meeting between the Minister of Fisheries and members of the fishing industry, which was described as being long overdue (the Minister was appointed in June 2009) revealed and confirmed an awful lot. Perhaps most telling of the crises they face, the Minister publicly conceded that they would be happy to receive advice from persons outside of the department. It of course does not help your cause when your two most senior fisheries employees (the Deputy Director-General of Fisheries and the (Acting) Chief Director of Fisheries) know absolutely nothing about fisheries administration, management or compliance.
So what did the Minister have to say?
On the small scale fishing policy, she insists that an implementation plan for the fishery will be in place by the end of the 2013. Err, but she told us when this fatally flawed policy was adopted by Cabinet in mid 2012, that the implementation plan would be ready by the end of 2012. However, we have always said that the Fisheries Department's refusal to accept anyone's advice when drafting this appalling policy would only perpetuate the destruction of the lobster fishery and ensure mass poverty in rural fishing towns and villages. Lets be brutal about this policy. It is unimplementable and impractical. It is the equivalent of the department insisting that a square wheel will work when our entire human history has shown that the round wheel works best! Question for the department. Why did the SOCIALIST Republic of Vietnam abandon co-operatives in fisheries and migrate to individually allocated fishing quotas? Why does the South African government insist on adopting policies that have been proven to have failed the world over (nationalisation, OBE in education, co-operatives in fisheries ....).
Our advice, is that you need to go back to the drawing board with this policy. Scrap it, start again.
The Minister confirmed that the Navy is unable to operate the patrol and research vessels and that these would be returned to the Department. My God. Its taken this lot an entire year to realise what we have been saying from the start. How many billions of rand in fish have we lost to IUU fishing because we have failed to protect our oceans? How much more tax payers' money will be squandered repairing vessels that never required repair on such a scale before? How much money would we have saved and how much pain avoided had this Minister been mature enough and not allowed personal vendettas and grudges to pollute the waters of responsible fisheries management? Tina Joemat-Pettersson has been singularly responsible for perhaps the greatest plunder of an EEZ under UNCLOS history.
On South Africa's increasingly tenuous Marine Steward Council certification (MSC), she simply gave the bald assurance that "processes are underway" to ensure the continuation of MSC. Of course no one knows what these "processes are". For example, South Africa still does not have an observer programme in place after terminating it for no reason about 18 months ago. And despite repeated promises to get the programme back up and running, nothing has happened. Perhaps foreseeing that suspension of MSC status and the consequent loss of the EU and North American markets are inevitable, Joemat-Pettersson promised to look into expanding market access and noted that during the upcoming BRIC's summit, South Africa would sign an agreement with Russia to seek to expand fish exports to that country. What of course is interesting is that no one in industry was even aware of this proposed trade agreement with Russia! What is known is that Russian consumption of fish is growing and is at present at about 19kg per capita (cf to European consumption at 23-25kg per capita) but what do we know about the types and quality of fish they require? What about pricing? Will they pay the significant premiums that are presently paid for SA white fish? However, any possible expansion of markets should be welcomed but requires proper analysis and understanding first otherwise the trade agreement is simply pointless!
The fisheries department's DDG, Ms Greta Apelgren-Nakardien, also confirmed that the "department would support WCRL recovery plan". One can only smirk at such a comment. Firstly, the recovery plan is the department's own plan - it was not conceptualised by industry or some third party! Secondly, this is just further confirmation that they ignored their own recovery plan when determining the present lobster TAC, which we maintain is unlawful. On this point, the Minister has until 22 March 2013 to provide Feike with the alleged research studies that apparently supported the abandonment of the recovery plan and the unlawful amendment of the TAC adopted on 29 September 2012.
On the long term fishing rights process which is presently running more than 5 months late on their own timetable, the Minister continued to blindly insist that more than 1000 fishing rights would be reallocated by September 2013. Why she and her department continues to dig deeper into this hole is beyond us. According to the Department's most recent timetable for the allocation of fishing rights, the two service providers meant to assist the department in this legally and administratively complex process ought to have been appointed. As far as we are aware, the revised tender notices have not even been published inviting prospective service providers to tender for this work. In addition, draft policies ought to be ready for public comment and consultation at this stage. Given that we now enter the Easter Holiday period for the next 3 weeks, the writing is on the wall - nothing can be achieved during the remainder of March and most of April. But, the Minister and her DDG keeps insisting that the process to allocate rights by September is on track! Ignorance is bliss.